Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Israel Using Illegal Weapons and Not Reporting Deserters

Posted in war crimes by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

Jaisal Noor, The Indypendent

us-israelAmnesty International released a report Nov. 5 stating that a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas “has brought enormous improvements in the quality of life in Sderot and other Israeli villages near Gaza.” However, it warned that a spate of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks in the previous 24 hours could “once again put the civilian populations of Gaza and southern Israel in the line of fire.”

Seven weeks later, Israel launched a massive military offensive into Gaza that shocked much of the world while gaining widespread support inside the Jewish state.

The Gaza offensive took 13 Israeli lives, including three civilians. Meanwhile more than 1,300 Palestinian lives were lost, more than half of which were civilians, including at least 400 children. At least 5,000 were injured. The price tag for the reconstruction of 21,000 homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and other infrastructure destroyed is estimated at more than $2 billion. The conflict destroyed half of Gaza’s agricultural industry, which provided a quarter of its food.

Gaza is one of the most crowded places on earth; it holds 1.5 million people, half of whom are children under 15. The majority of Gazans are the descendants of Palestinians who were forced to flee during the founding of Israel in 1948. Eighty percent of Gazans subsist on less than $2 a day and depend on the United Nations for basic survival. Israel has imposed a 19-month-long blockade, stopping food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching Gaza despite U.N. pleas that the restrictions be lifted.

Israel stands accused of firing on and killing civilians waving white flags, those it ordered to flee their homes and on aid workers. Israel has also been accused of refusing to let the injured get medical care by impeding and firing on ambulances. A coalition of nine Israeli human rights groups called for an investigation into whether Israel committed war crimes, protesting the “wanton use of lethal force” against Palestinian civilians. The U.N.’s special rapporteur to Palestine said Israel could be in violation of the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international law and international humanitarian law. The Israeli explanation for high civilian casualties is that Hamas fighters concealed themselves within the civilian population.

Amnesty International accused Israel of using white phosphorus “in densely populated residential neighborhoods, [which] is inherently indiscriminate,” adding, “Its repeated use in this manner … is a war crime.” Israel has also been accused of using cluster bombs in densely populated areas, as well as using experimental weapons that are illegal under international law, including dense inert metal explosives (DIME) and GPS-guided mortars. A former U.S. Department of Defense official, now with Human Rights Watch, stated, “Experimenting has a different meaning for Americans. We think animal experimenting, but [its use was] indeed a field test.” Israel has dismissed all accusations of using illegal weapons and promised to protect its soldiers from prosecution.

It is difficult to say how many Israeli soldiers and reservists refused to take part in the fighting as the Israeli military was sending military resisters quietly home rather than jailing them and risking puncturing an aura of shared national purpose. One military resister who went public with his opposition was Yitzchak Ben Mocha, who refused to fight in Gaza because, “It’s not a war of defense. … You can’t separate the war in Gaza from the fact that the Palestinian nation is under occupation for more than 40 years.”

A DIFFERENT PATH FORWARD

According to the Israeli group Peace Now, Israel has escalated settlement expansion by 57 percent over the past year. The scope of the Israeli government’s complicity came into focus Jan. 30. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that a secret database developed by the Israeli military confirms that many settlements are built on private Palestinian land and considered illegal under Israeli law. According to Haaretz, “in the vast majority of the settlements — about 75 percent — construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents.”

It has been reported that President Barack Obama may start indirect low-level talks with Hamas, similar to those that the Carter administration held with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the late 1970s. In 1982, Israel responded to the PLO’s willingness to negotiate by invading Lebanon, where the PLO was based, in a war that killed as many as 25,000 people. Twenty-seven years later the PLO’s Fatah party has been reduced to the role of collaborating in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and in spite of 16 years of negotiations it has been unable to stop Israeli expansion onto Palestinian lands.

It has been argued that the objective of Israel’s assault on Gaza was to knock out Hamas because it opposes the Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Jerusalem. According to a leading Israeli expert on the conflict Avi Shlaim, the “definition of terror is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes.” So while Hamas is a terrorist organization, “by the same token, Israel is practicing state terror, because it is using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes.”

An internationally-backed peace agreement has been on the table for more than 30 years: the creation of a Palestinian state in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. With Hamas now indicating it is willing to negotiate along these lines, the main obstacle to peace remains the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation, which only the U.S. public has the power to end.

To read more coverage on the Arab-Israeli conflict and related activism, click here.

Israel Used White Phosphorus –Made in USA–on Gazans

Posted in war crimes by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

Note from Allison: This is made all the more perverse by the fact that the US is set to give $900 million in aid to Gaza, while also giving $30+billion in aid to Israel. We’re giving aid to one side in order to rebuild the shit that gone blown up by the other side, who we’re arming. And no one sees anything devious or hypocritical about any of this?

Guardian

Relatives mourn a Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, last month. (Eyad Baba/AP)

Relatives mourn a Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, last month. (Eyad Baba/AP)

Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel‘s extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.

In a report released today, Amnesty International detailed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the Obama administration to suspend military aid to Israel.

The human rights group said that those arming both sides in the conflict “will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated”.

The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a current 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn (£21bn) in military aid to Israel.

“As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme director. “To a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers’ money.”

For their part, Palestinian militants in Gaza were arming themselves with “unsophisticated weapons” including rockets made in Russia, Iran and China and bought from “clandestine sources”, it said. About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 4,000 injured during the three-week conflict. On the Israeli side 13 were killed, including three civilians. Amnesty said Israel’s armed forces carried out “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate”. The Israeli military declined to comment yesterday.

Palestinian militants also fired “indiscriminate rockets” at civilians, Amnesty said. It called for an independent investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by both sides.

Amnesty researchers in Gaza found several weapon fragments after the fighting. One came from a 500lb (227kg) Mark-82 fin guided bomb, which had markings indicating parts were made by the US company Raytheon. They also found fragments of US-made white phosphorus artillery shells, marked M825 A1.

On 15 January, several white phosphorus shells fired by the Israeli military hit the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, destroying medicine, food and aid. One fragment found at the scene had markings indicating it was made by the Pine Bluff Arsenal, based in Arkansas, in October 1991.

The human rights group said the Israeli military had used white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, which it said was an indiscriminate form of attack and a war crime. Its researchers found white phosphorus still burning in residential areas days after the ceasefire.

At the scene of an Israeli attack that killed three Palestinian paramedics and a boy in Gaza City on 4 January, Amnesty found fragments of an AGM114 Hellfire missile, made by Hellfire Systems of Orlando, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The missile is often fired from Apache helicopters.

Amnesty said it also found evidence of a new type of missile, apparently fired from unmanned drones, which exploded into many pieces of shrapnel that were “tiny sharp-edged metal cubes, each between 2 and 4mm square in size”.

“They appear designed to cause maximum injury,” Amnesty said. Many civilians were killed by this weapon, including several children, it said.

Rockets fired by Palestinian militants were either 122mm Grad missiles or short-range Qassam rockets, a locally made, improvised artillery weapon. Warheads were either smuggled in or made from fertiliser.

The arsenal of weapons was on a “very small scale compared to Israel”, it said, adding that the scale of rocket arsenal deployed by Hizbullah in the 2006 Lebanese war was “beyond the reach of Palestinian militant groups”.

Armed for war

Israelis Missiles launched from helicopters and unmanned drones, including 20mm cannon and Hellfire missiles. Larger laser-guided and other bombs dropped by F-16 warplanes. Extensive use of US-made 155mm white phosphorus artillery shells and Israeli-made 155mm illuminating shells that eject phosphorus canisters by parachute. Several deaths caused by flechettes, 4cm-long metal darts packed into 120mm tank shells, and fragments of US-made 120mm tank shells.

Palestinians Militants fired rockets into southern Israel including 122mm Grad rockets of either Russian, Chinese or Iranian manufacture, and smaller, improvised Qassam rockets often made inside Gaza and usually holding 5kg of explosives and shrapnel.

Israel Declares It Will Cease Fire; U.N. School Hit

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 17, 2009

New York Times

Smoke rises from Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City on Saturday. (Ali Ali/European Pressphoto Agency)

Smoke rises from Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City on Saturday. (Ali Ali/European Pressphoto Agency)

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel announced late Saturday night that the Israeli military would begin a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza within hours while negotiations continued on how to stop the resupply of Hamas through smuggling from Egypt.

Mr. Olmert, who said all Israeli objectives for the war had been reached, said Israel was responding positively to a call by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt earlier in the day for an immediate cease-fire, in a clearly orchestrated move by two countries that both see the Hamas movement in Gaza as a threat. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders outside Gaza have insisted that the group will fight on, regardless of any Israeli declaration.

The announcement came on a day in which Israel was again criticized by the United Nations over civilian deaths in Gaza — this time after a tank fired at a United Nations school, killing two young brothers taking shelter there.

United Nations aid officials raised questions about whether the attack, and others like it, should be investigated as war crimes. The Israeli Army said that it was investigating the reports at the highest level but that initial inquiries indicated that troops were returning fire from near or within the school.

The Israeli cease-fire, which becomes effective at 2 a.m. Sunday, could mean an effective end to a three-week-old war that has killed at least 1,200 Palestinians, with more buried under rubble, and 13 Israelis. But even then, the shape of any lasting peace was far from clear.

Israel has signaled that its troops will stay in Gaza until a formal truce is signed that meets Israeli goals of stopping rocket fire from Gaza and sharply hindering the smuggling of arms, weapons, cash and fighters into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. But the government says it will not sign any deal with Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and whose rule over Gaza Israel does not want to recognize.

Also, Israeli officials said that they reserved the right to attack again in the future if Hamas kept firing rockets into Israel. Hamas, battered but hardly broken, is expected to reassert its political control over Gaza and to resist any attempt to restore a presence for Fatah, the rival faction that runs the Palestinian Authority, within Gaza.

The announcement of the unilateral cease-fire came on the 22nd day of the war, after repeated calls by the United Nations Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an immediate halt to the fighting and the deaths of civilians.

The military said that it struck hundreds of targets overnight, including rocket-launching sites, weapons caches and 70 smuggling tunnels, and that its troops tightened the encirclement of Gaza City.

Though exiled Hamas figures vowed to keep fighting, it was unclear how the cease-fire will be received by leaders within Gaza. The group’s representatives were scheduled to meet Egyptian officials in Cairo who are trying to pull together a sustainable truce of at least a year that will end rocket fire into Israel, hinder Hamas resupply and reopen all the crossings into encircled Gaza from both Israel and Egypt.

Particularly concerned about limiting smuggling, the United States and Israel signed a “memorandum of understanding” on Friday in Washington that calls for expanded cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming through Egypt. The agreement, which is vague, promises increased American technical assistance and international monitors, presumably to be based in Egypt, to crack down on the smuggling.

As important, the United States agreed to work with NATO partners to interdict arms smuggling into Gaza by land and sea from Syria and Iran, and in a letter, Britain, France and Germany also offered to help interdict the smuggling of arms to Hamas.

On Saturday, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced a summit meeting about Gaza for Sunday, of which Mr. Mubarak would be co-chairman. Mr. Sarkozy announced that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain would attend; Mr. Brown said later he was “considering” attending. Egypt has invited Italy, Spain, Turkey, Mr. Ban and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, whose Fatah party governs the West Bank. The meeting, to take place in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik, is about bringing a halt to the fighting in a sustainable way and reconstruction aid for Gaza.

While Mr. Sarkozy initiated the process with Mr. Mubarak in the waning days of the Bush administration, it has been in the end a deal shaped by Egypt and Israel.

Mr. Mubarak’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that his country would not be bound by the memorandum of understanding agreed to by the United States and Israel and would not accept foreign troops on its soil. But officials of both Israel and the United States say Egypt has been showing a new seriousness about stopping the smuggling.

The Arab and Muslim world again appeared to be split into two camps. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been openly critical of Hamas, pressing it to agree to a cease-fire. Qatar, meanwhile, which is close to Iran, held a meeting with Syria, Iran, Mauritania and Hamas’s exiled political leader, Khaled Meshal, as the Palestinian representative. Mr. Abbas, who is supported by the United States and Egypt, had refused to go to Qatar.

In Beit Lahiya, some 1,600 displaced Gazans have taken shelter at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, which cares for Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants.

John Ging, the Gaza director of the agency, said that two brothers, ages 5 and 7, were killed about 7 a.m. by Israeli fire at the school. Their mother, who was among 14 others wounded, had her legs blown off.

“These two little boys are as innocent, indisputably, as they are dead,” Mr. Ging said. “The question now being asked is: is this and the killing of all other innocent civilians in Gaza a war crime?” 

Christopher Gunness, the refugee agency’s spokesman, said: “Where you have a direct hit on an Unrwa school where about 1,600 people had taken refuge, where the Israeli Army knows the coordinates and knows who’s there, where this comes as the latest in a catalogue of direct and indirect attacks on Unrwa facilities, there have to be investigations to establish whether war crimes have been committed,” as well, he added “as violations of international humanitarian law.”

The strike was the fourth time Israel has hit an Unrwa school during the war on Hamas. On Jan. 6, Mr. Ging said, 43 people died when an Israeli shell hit the compound of a school in Jabaliya. Israel has disputed the death toll and said it was returning mortar fire from the school compound.

Four Israeli soldiers, two of them officers, were seriously hurt by mortar fire in fighting on Saturday morning, the army said, suggesting that they were victims of friendly fire. And it said that Hamas had fired 12 rockets at Israel on Saturday, a sharp reduction from daily totals since the start of the war.

While the details are debated and the dead are counted, a critical long-term issue is whether the Gaza operation restores Israel’s deterrent. Israel wants Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Arab world to view it as a nation too strong and powerful to seriously threaten or attack. That motivation is one reason, Israeli officials say privately, for going into Gaza so hard, using such firepower, and fighting Hamas as an enemy army.

The answer won’t be known for many months, but the key to the Muslim world’s reaction is actually that of the Israeli public, said Yossi Klein Halevi, of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem. “The Arabs take their cue from Israeli responses,” he said. “Deterrence is about how Israelis feel, whether they feel they’ve won or lost.”

Mr. Halevi cited both the 1973 war — which Egyptians celebrate and Israelis mourn, though it ended with a spectacular Israel counterattack — and the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, apologized for the 2006 war on television, “but he quickly reversed himself to declare a wonderful victory when he saw the Israeli public declaring defeat,” Mr. Halevi said.

Even more important, perhaps, this Gazan war is a test case for any potential Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank. If Israelis feel that the West Bank will turn into another kind of chaotic, Hamas-run Gaza, they will be unwilling to withdraw — especially if they believe that once they withdrew, and if they were attacked from the West Bank, they would not be allowed to respond with force.

“Gaza is an important test of whether we can defend ourselves within the 1967 boundaries,” Mr. Halevi said, noting that Hamas had been attacking Israel proper, not settlements. “Will we be able to defend ourselves if we need to from the West Bank? Will the international community let us?”

The Israeli public has stayed united behind the war as a necessary battle, despite serious misgivings about the death toll of Palestinian civilians and international condemnation. Even Meretz, a party on the left of Israeli politics, supported the air war.

Hamas has modeled itself on Hezbollah, calling on Iranian support. Mr. Nasrallah once spoke of Israeli power as a spider web — impressive from afar, but easily brushed aside. This war against Hamas, Mr. Halevi said, “is the revenge of the spider.”

(VIDEO) Israel Hits UN Headquarters with White Phosphorous Shells

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 15, 2009

Guardian UK

un-logo-copyThe headquarters of the UN refugee agency was on fire today after coming under attack as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza City, unleashing the heaviest shelling of densely packed neighbourhoods since the military operation began nearly three weeks ago.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, expressed “strong protest and outrage” and demanded an investigation into why there was an attack on the compound of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a well-known location in Gaza marked with blue UN flags. The number of casualties in the Gaza Strip, now 1,055 according to local UN officials, had “reached an unbearable point”, Ban added.

As an Israeli envoy arrived in Cairo to take part in Egyptian-brokered talks on a possible ceasefire, the UN chief said there was no reason why the fighting could not stop immediately. “I believe that elements are in place for the violence to end now,” he said in Tel Aviv, the latest stop on his peace mission.

Gordon Brown described the shelling of the UN compound as “indefensible” and “unacceptable” and called for a ceasefire.

“The UN’s mission in Gaza is purely humanitarian, bringing relief to civilians suffering in appalling conditions as a result of the ongoing military action and restrictions on food and medical supplies entering Gaza,” the prime minister said. “UN staff are working on behalf of the international community – any attack on them is unacceptable, as Israel has acknowledged.”

A warehouse containing tonnes of relief supplies was ablaze after the compound was hit by what a UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness, said appeared to be three white phosphorous shells.

Three people were reported to be injured – one UN staff member and two of the estimated 700 local people who had taken shelter from the violence.

Relief operations had been temporarily held up but were not being suspended, Gunness said.

John Ging, the head of UN operations in Gaza, told al-Jazeera television: “This is going to burn down the entire warehouse … thousands and thousands of tonnes of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance is there.”

He said the phosphorus fires were hard to extinguish “because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning”. Phosphorous munitions are banned under international law as a weapon but permitted if used to create a smokescreen.

Ban said he had demanded a full explanation from Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak.

“The defence minister said to me it was a grave mistake and he took it very seriously. He assured me that extra attention will be paid to UN facilities and staff and this will not be repeated,” Ban said.

The AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying that a fire had broken out after an Israeli strike in a wing of al-Quds hospital in south-west Gaza City, where hundreds more people took shelter early today from advancing Israeli tanks. It was not clear if there were any injuries.

The news agency Reuters reported that a missile or shell had struck the Gaza tower block where it and other media organisations have offices. The 13th floor of al-Shurouq Tower, which houses Abu Dhabi television, appeared to have been hit, injuring one of its journalists.

Israeli forces were reported to be closing in on the outskirts of Gaza City, targeting 70 sites overnight and forcing thousands more Palestinians to flee their homes. It is not clear whether this morning’s offensive marks another escalation in the conflict or a brief foray ahead of a possible ceasefire.

Israel’s envoy Amos Gilad flew into Cairo today for talks with Egyptian mediators. He will not meet any of the Hamas representatives who are also in Egypt’s capital.

An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, said Gilad was there to discuss the “parameters of the endgame” – a goal that was “close and attainable”. Regev said: “There is momentum in these discussions. We are hopeful that a deal will be based on a total cessation of Hamas fire into Israel and an arms embargo to prevent Hamas from rearming.”

The Egyptian plan appears to begin with a ceasefire of a week or 10 days, during which all fighting would stop but Israeli troops would remain on the ground in Gaza. Talks would then be held on the more difficult questions of stopping the smuggling of weapons to Hamas and lifting Israel’s long economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

However, it is thought Hamas’s conditions for any deal would probably include an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces the moment a ceasefire started. That may prove too much for Israel to accept.

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More Images From Gaza

Posted in human rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 12, 2009

Warning: Extremely Graphic

In 17 days: 905 Palestinians killed by Israel (284 children and 100 women) and 4095 injured. Thirteen Israelis dead.

Both Parties Cheerlead Still More Loudly for Israel’s War

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

_45351664_006673810-1(updated below)

World concern over, and opposition to, the Israeli war in Gaza is rapidly mounting:

International pressure intensified sharply on Israel on Thursday, the 13th day of its Gaza assault, after the United Nations suspended food aid deliveries, the International Committee of the Red Cross accused the Israelis of knowingly blocking assistance to the injured, and a top Vatican official defended comments in which he compared Gaza to a concentration camp.

The Israelis have deliberately made it impossible to know the full extent of the carnage and humanitarian disasters because they continue to prevent journalists from entering Gaza even in the face of a now week-old Israeli Supreme Court order compelling them to do so.  According to Palestinian sources, there are now 700 dead Palestinians — at least 200 of them children — and well over 1,000 wounded.  Those numbers are not seriously doubted by anyone.  By comparison, a total of 10 Israelis have died — 10 — almost all of them by “friendly fire.”  The unusually worded Red Cross condemnation of Israel was prompted by its discovery, after finally being allowed into Gaza, of starving Palestinian children laying next to corpses, with ambulances blocked for days by the IDF.  Even with the relative “restraint” Israel is excercising (the damage it could cause is obviously much greater), this is not so much of a war as it is a completely one-sided massacre.

As a result, much of the world is urging an end to the war and acting to forge a cease-fire — except the United States.  Here, blind and unequivocal support for the Israeli attack is actually increasing almost as fast as the Palestinian body count piles up.  Apparently, it isn’t enough that we supply the very bombs being dropped on the Palestinians and use our U.N. veto power to prevent any U.N. action to stop the war or even to urge its cessation.  The U.S. Congress wants to involve the U.S. further still in Israel’s war.

This afternoon, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate did just that by enacting — via a cowardly voice vote — a completely one-sided, non-binding resolution that expresses unequivocal support for the Israeli war, and heaps all the blame for the conflict on Hamas and none of it on Israel.  Harry Reid — who jointly sponsored the Resolution with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell — proudly proclaimed: “When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel.”  On its website, AIPAC is already patting the U.S. Senate on its head for “for conveying America’s unequivocal and steadfast support for Israel’s right to self-defense.”

The Senate resolution is here (.pdf).  The very similar House version that was circulated earlier today was drafted by Israel-centric House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).  It is here (.pdf), and is expected to pass later today or tomorrow — undoubtedly with overwhelming bipartisan support.   ThinkProgess noted yesterday that Democrats took the lead in drafting the Resolution because they did not want to be “out-hawked by the Republicans,” though it’s hardly unusual for Democrats to march in lockstep with Republicans on Israel more than any other issue.

It’s hard to overstate how one-sided this resolution is.  It “expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders.”  Why should the U.S. maintain an “unwavering commitment to the welfare” of a foreign country?  It “lays blame both for the breaking of the ‘calm’ and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas.”  It repeatedly mentions the various sins of Hamas — from rockets to suicide attacks — but does not mention a single syllable of criticism for Israel.  In the world of the U.S. Congress, neither the 4-decade occupation of Palestinian land nor the devastating blockade of Gaza nor the ongoingexpansion of Israeli settlements even exist.  That may not be mentioned.

The Resolution demands that Hamas take multiple steps towards peaceful resolution but demands that Israel do absolutely nothing.  It purports to call for a cease-fire in which the Palestinians make all the concessions and Israel makes none.  Worst of all — in light of the Red Cross condemnation, yesterday’s slaughter at the U.N. school, and other similar incidents — the Resolution disgustingly praises Israel’s conduct of the war, claiming that “Israel has facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza with hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian assistance and numerous ambulances entering the Gaza Strip since the current round of fighting began on December 27, 2008.”

This one-sided, ostensibly “pro-Israel” bipartisan inflaming of tensions by the U.S. is nothing new.  Long-time Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, inNewsweek, earlier this week made one of the most startling revelations in some time — that in all the time the U.S. has supposedly been attempting to forge a Middle East peace agreement over the past 25 years, it never once, in any meaningful way, raised with Israeli leaders the damage that comes from Israeli settlements.  Specifically, said Miller:  “I can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity — including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions — does to the peacemaking process.”

Miller emphasized that by being so blindly supportive even of misguided Israeli actions, “the United States has allowed that special bond to become exclusive in ways that undermine America’s, and Israel’s, national interests.”  The only way the U.S. can play a constructive role in the Middle East, he argues, is if it is even-handed and, most importantly, willing to criticize Israeli actions when they harm American interests (and their own) and pressure them to stop.  Matt Yglesias, in a new piece up at The American Prospect, makes much the same point.

Yet here we have, yet again, exactly the opposite behavior — equally from both parties.  At exactly the time that worldwide horror over this war is at its peak, the Democratic-led Congress steps up to announce to the world:  “this is our war, too; we support whatever Israel does absolutely and without reservations.”  We thus make Israel’s wars our wars; its enemies our enemies; its intractable disputes our disputes; and the hostility and anger it generates our own.  And we embolden Israel to continue further. 

Given that we endlessly hear from our political establishment that the first and most important obligation of our leaders is to “keep us safe” — that’s the justification for everything from torture to presidential lawbreaking — what possible legitimate rationale is there for the U.S. Congress to act in unison to involve itself in Israel’s war so emphatically, and to thereby re-direct the anger over Israeli actions even further towards the U.S. and American citizens?  How are U.S. interests even remotely advanced by insinuating ourselves this way?  As Juan Cole recounted this week:

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. . . .

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

The U.S. does enough on its own to make itself the target of worldwide anger.  Why must it take on Israel’s battles as well?

The fact that this is a non-binding resolution makes it worse, not better.  It achieves nothing other than rubbing in the world’s face — including the Muslim world — that this is not just an Israeli attack on Palestinians but an American attack as well.  As BooMan put it in explaining that virtually no mainstream U.S. politician would dare oppose this Resolution:  “This, then, creates the false impression that there is near unanimity of support for whatever it is that Israel wants to do. And let me frank about this . . . sending such a message does more to put Americans at risk than it does it protect Israelis.”

TPM’s Elana Schor today wrote:  “We’re looking into whether any senator was bold enough to decline to co-sponsor the measure.”  It will be a surprise if there were any.  Many members of Congress — with some noble exceptions — still remain pitifully afraid that the likes of David “Axis of Evil” Frum will accuse them of being anti-Semitic if they dare oppose Israeli actions, even in the name of U.S. interests, while others continue to be supportive of any war or proposed war waged on Muslims or Arabs — regardless of the rationale for the war or its severity. 

Whatever the motives, for America to blindly support Israel’s self-destructive and unjustified behavior does not serve Israeli interests and — most importantly — does not serve America’s.  Blind support isn’t “friendship,” nor is enabling someone else’s destructive behavior.  It’s subservience.  And few things are as harmful or as unjust as the cowardly, lockstep behavior of both major American political parties when it comes to Israel.

UPDATE:  Since the Israeli attack on Gaza began, the advocacy of J Street — the new Jewish-American organization designed to break AIPAC’s monoply on speaking for American Jews — has been superb.  They have gone much further than any Jewish group that is taken seriously in the establishment has gone, continuously expressing opposition to the Israeli offensive and infuriating those who want to maintain a neoconservative stranglehold over speaking for American Jews.  Earlier today, I asked them for their position on the Senate Resolution and, just now, this is what they sent me:

Since the first days of the crisis in Gaza, J Street has consistently called for strong American leadership to reach a ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel, institutes an effective mechanism to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, and lifts the blockade of Gaza. Since J Street’s founding, we have consistently advocated for active American diplomacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We support Congressional action that endorses these aims.

That statement — by design, I would guess — is unclear in the extreme.  It seems intended to imply — without actually stating — support for the Congressional Resolutions.  They say they “support Congressional action that endorses these aims,” but — conspicuously — they don’t actually say whether the Resolution passed by the Senate and to be passed by the House does so.  It’s hard to see how either of the two Resolutions could be deemed to do so, given that neither even mentions, for instance, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.  But that’s the statement J Street issued.

On a related note, MediaBloodHound has the details on the very interesting story of how AP caused to vanish into thin air the tough questioning by its reporter of the U.S. State Department regarding Gaza.

Kucinich Criticizes Israel; Wants U.N. Probe

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 30, 2008

TheHill.com

s-dk-largeRep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is calling for a United Nations investigation into Israel’s attacks on Gaza, criticizing Israel for a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks.

The criticism stands in stark contrast to the statements of other Democrats, who have offered near-unanimous support for Israel amid the latest violence in the Middle East.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats have blamed Hamas for the violence, which has left more than 300 people in Gaza dead. One person in Israel has been killed by a Hamas rocket.

Kucinich likened the Israeli attacks on Gaza to its war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006. In both cases, he said, civilian populations were attacked and “countless innocents” were killed or injured.

“All this was, and is, disproportionate, indiscriminate mass violence in violation of international law,” Kucinich said in a statement. “Israel is not exempt from international law and must be held accountable.”

Pelosi and other Democrats have refrained from criticizing Israel’s government, which has responded to the Hamas attacks with a rocket assault on Gaza.

“Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot result from daily barrages of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza,” Pelosi said in a statement posted on the Speaker’s website on Monday.

“Hamas and its supporters must understand that Gaza cannot and will not be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel.

Reid said he “strongly” supported Israel’s right to defend its citizens from the Hamas rocket attacks and to restore its security. He also blamed Hamas for any humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas’s failure to stop these attacks only exacerbates the humanitarian situation for the residents of Gaza and undermines efforts to attain peace and security in the region.”

In March, the House voted 404-1 for a resolution condemning Hamas and other Palestinian groups for rocket attacks on Israel. It also condemned the use of Palestinians as human shields. Hamas has been criticized repeatedly for shooting rockets into Israel from civilian areas in Gaza, which leads to the deaths of civilians when Israel counterattacks.

The only member of Congress to vote against the resolution was Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), a Republican candidate for president in 2008. Four Democrats, Reps. Jim Moran (Va.), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Michael Capuano (Mass.) and Jim McDermott (Wash.), voted present. Kucinich was not present for the vote.

Kucinich said the perpetrators of attacks against Israel should be brought to justice, but that Israel “cannot create a war against an entire people in order to attempt to bring to justice the few who are responsible.”

Pelosi said the U.S. must continue to do everything it can to promote peace in the region and a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. She said humanitarian needs of all innocent civilians must be addressed, but added that when Israel is attacked, “the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Israel had a “duty” to defend itself in response to the attacks. “The loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, and the blame for that tragedy lies with Hamas.”

Similarly, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) laid blame with Hamas.

“Hamas is abusing the people of Gaza by using their homes as a base for terror operations,” he said. “The world should no longer tolerate a terrorist government in the Gaza Strip.”

President-elect Obama has yet to weigh in on the violence, although top adviser David Axelrod on Sunday noted statements Obama made over the summer that respected Israel’s right to defend itself.

Kucinich said in his statement that he had sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requesting an independent inquiry. He said the attacks on civilians represented collective punishment, which he said was a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

United Nations: First Gay Rights Declaration Wins Much Support, United States Opposes It

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 19, 2008

New York Times

s-gays-largeUNITED NATIONS — An unprecedented declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality won the support of 66 countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, but opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize pedophilia and other “deplorable acts.”

The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See’s observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration “challenges existing human rights norms.”

The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.

“How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?” said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

France decided to use the format of a declaration because it did not have the support for an official resolution. Read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina, the declaration was the first on gay rights read in the 192-member General Assembly itself.

Although laws against homosexuality are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, more than one speaker addressing a separate conference on the declaration noted that the laws stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality “are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.

Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were “disappointed” that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. “The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered,” said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.

The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

“We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction,” said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy permanent representative.

Gay-rights advocates brought to the conference from around the world by France said just having the taboo broken on discussing the topic at the United Nations would aid their battles at home. “People in Africa can have hope that someone is speaking for them,” said the Rev. Jide Macaulay of Nigeria.